Serena Williams called comments by Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpischev “sexist and racist” when he referred to the No. 1 women’s player in the world and her older sister Venus as “brothers.”
Williams was aghast when she learned Tarpischev, on a Russian talk show with former Olympic singles champion Elena Dementieva, interjected on a question about playing against the Williams sisters to say, “The Williams brothers … It’s scary when you really look at them.”
The Women’s Tennis Association is seeking to have Tarpischev suspended for a year. He was fined $25,000.
“I think the WTA did a great job of taking [the] initiative and taking immediate action to his comments,” Williams said. “I thought they were very insensitive and extremely sexist as well as racist at the same time. I thought they were in a way bullying.”
Asked whether he regretted his comments, Tarpischev told The Associated Press on Saturday at the Kremlin Cup that the program on which he spoke was “a humorous show.” When asked about his ban, Tarpischev said: “I can’t comment. I don’t understand it.”
In a statement released later by the Russian Tennis Federation, Tarpischev denied any “malicious intent” and said his quotes had been taken out of context.
Tarpischev has been chairman of the Kremlin Cup, Russia’s only WTA event, for all of its 18 years as a women’s tour event, and is also a member of the International Olympic Committee. During the 1990s, he was the personal tennis coach to Russian president Boris Yeltsin and served as his adviser on sports matters.
Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova, also in Singapore for the WTA Finals, said of Tarpischev’s comments: “I think they were very disrespectful and uncalled for, and I’m glad that many people have stood up, including the WTA. It was very inappropriate, especially in his position and all the responsibilities that he has not just in sport, but being part of the Olympic committee.”